Leaf Institute

The Terrible Speed of Mercy

7-9PM May 30, 2019 • 2 Hours • $20


About the Talk

Flannery O’Connor’s work has been described as “profane, blasphemous, and outrageous.” Her stories are peopled by a sordid caravan of murderers and thieves, prostitutes and bigots whose lives are punctuated by horror and sudden violence. But perhaps the most shocking thing about Flannery O’Connor’s fiction is the fact that it is shaped by a thoroughly Christian vision. If the world she depicts is dark and terrifying, it is also the place where grace makes itself known. Her world—our world—is the stage whereon the divine comedy plays out; the freakishness and violence in O’Connor’s stories, so often mistaken for a kind of misanthropy or even nihilism, turn out to be a call to mercy.

In this biography, Jonathan Rogers gets at the heart of O’Connor’s work. He follows the roots of her fervent Catholicism and traces the outlines of a life marked by illness and suffering, but ultimately defined by an irrepressible joy and even hilarity. In her stories, and in her life story, Flannery O’Connor extends a hand in the dark, warning and reassuring us of the terrible speed of mercy.



I don’t remember one thing about the day I was born, though I have been given to believe that it happened in Warner Robins, Georgia, which serves as the setting for most of my childhood memories. I received an undergraduate degree from Furman University and hold a PhD in seventeenth-century literature from Vanderbilt University. I have spent most of my adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where I live with my wife, our six kids, and a Labrador retriever.

I call my fiction “fantasy adventure stories told in an American accent.” The Wilderking Trilogy (The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking) and The Charlatan's Boy are fantasy stories, but they owe more to Twain than to Tolkien. Peopled  by boasters, brawlers, bumpkins, con men, cowboys, and swampers, my novels draw deeply from American vernacular storytelling traditions. They harness the humor of that tradition in the service of divine comedy—a worldview in which the sorrows and hurts of this world, as true as they might be, aren’t nearly so true as a vital joy and love that will one day sweep everything before them like a flood. 

I love the comic novel in particular because I believe that even low comedy can be a way to get at transcendence. But my non-fiction books—The World According to Narnia, Saint Patrick, and The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O'Connor—center on divine comedy too.

In recent years, I have gone back to teaching. I am Head of Program at New College Franklin in Franklin, Tennessee. I also teach creative writing, both online and in live-action seminars. 




Presentation with Q&A


Thursday, May 30, 2019


Leaf Institute of Art & Vocation
1278 Pendleton St, Greenville, SC 29611




Jonathan Rogers




All ages


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